During the first week of March of 2013, the worldwide press reported the extraordinary discovery of Arthur Pinajian, an important artist whose life's work had been relegated to the garbage but rescued just in time. ABC's "Good Morning America" featured it as "the
unlikely discovery that has rocked the art world."
Hundreds of other news outlets around the globe ran the story. Reports included a major piece featured in The
New York Times.
Art historians nationwide are still expressing astonishment
that works of such a high caliber could have remained completely
unknown for the better part of a century. Major private collectors
have already purchased many of the paintings, and at least
six are headed to museums. Art historian Peter Hastings Falk,
Chief Curator of the Pinajian Estate Collection, explains
that the artist was a hermit for his entire life. Arthur Pinajian
life's work had been packed tightly into a garage since he
died in 1999 at the age of 85. Now, after being exhibited
across the nation, his much-lauded abstract landscapes are
being showcased in Lost and Found,
an ongoing exhibition at Gallery 125 in Bellport, New York.
After Pinajian's death, five decades of accumulated artwork were found stacked up in the one-car garage and attic of the cottage he shared with his sister in Bellport. He had left instructions for his collection to be discarded in the town dump, but at the last minute, an artist cousin refused to let a garbage truck haul away the paintings. Instead, Professor William Innes Homer [1929-2012], then Dean of American Art Historians, was asked to examine the salvaged collection. He was stunned by what he found: a large body of extraordinary abstract landscapes and figurative paintings by a highly gifted artist. At Homer's urging, Falk signed on to head the project, and soon a team of art historians was conducting research into the life and art of Arthur Pinajian.
As a boy growing up in an Armenian community in West Hoboken, N.J., Pinajian was a completely self-trained cartoonist. During the Great Depression he became one of the pioneers in a new medium: the comic book. In 1940 he created "Madam Fatal," the first cross-dressing superhero, for Crack Comics. After World War II, he enrolled at the Art Students League in Woodstock, N.Y. Although he knew a number of the New York Abstract Expressionists, such as Franz Kline and Philip Guston, he was largely reclusive. For 22 years his life revolved around Woodstock while he passionately pursued his painting. His admirable poetic color combinations are reminiscent of the tonalities of his better-known fellow Armenian, Arshile Gorky [ca.1904-1948]. Late in life, Pinajian moved with his sister to Bellport. There, in a tiny bedroom-studio, he strived for visual and spiritual conclusions regarding flatness and color, paralleling the goals of the Abstract Expressionists.
The exhibition at Gallery 125 is accompanied by a 128-page hardcover book with essays by art historians Falk, Richard J. Boyle, and the late William Innes Homer, art critic John Perreault, conservator Jonathan Sherman, bestselling author Lawrence E. Joseph, owner of the collection, and Pinajian's artist cousin, Peter Najarian. The collective essays present one of the most compelling discoveries in the history of 20th century American art. Dr. Homer writes: "Even though Pinajian was a creative force to be reckoned with, during his lifetime he rarely exhibited or sold his paintings. Instead, he pursued his goals in isolation with the single-minded focus of a Gauguin or Cézanne, refusing to give up in the face of public indifference. In his later years he could be compared to a lone researcher in a laboratory pursuing knowledge for its own sake. His exhaustive diaries and art notes make it clear that he dedicated all of his days to his art. He was passionate and unequivocally committed."
An Intriguing Literary Connection
It is interesting to note the astonishing resemblance between
Pinajian and the hero in Kurt Vonnegut's Bluebeard:
The Autobiography of Rabo Karabekian, a 1987
novel about an eccentric painter. Both Pinajian and Karabekian,
a.k.a. Bluebeard, were Armenian-Americans, raised by parents
who survived the 1915 Turkish genocide of approximately one
million men, women and children who then made their way to
the United States, where they raised their families during
the Great Depression. Both men then served with the United
States Army during World War II in the European theater, each
earning a host of ribbons and medals, including the Bronze
Star. After the war, both abandoned their careers as illustrators
for higher artistic pursuits, joined the Art Students League
in New York, and interacted with the Abstract Expressionists
at the Cedar Tavern in Greenwich Village. Both eventually
moved to Long Island's East End near the ocean, where they
kept their paintings tightly locked away in a garage.
"Ultimately Pinajian's work reflects the soul of a flawed, yet brilliant, artistic genius. When he hits the mark, especially in his abstractions, he can be ranked among the best artists of his era . . . His life is, above all, a model for those who feel that they must follow their calling despite a lack of public acceptance," concluded Dr. Homer.